Keith Olbermann loves a good conspiracy theory: We watch, because we’re paid to

Ruth Graham Contributor
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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10: Kicking off a spectacular week of sensitivity toward women’s issues, tonight Olbermann giddily crowed over the fact that two BBC reporters mispronounced “Secretary of Culture Hunt.” Then he told a story about the time that he himself made a pronunciation error in reporting on air about a “quail hunt.” GET IT? He repeated it several times in case you didn’t, almost bouncing out of his chair with excitement over the cleverness and hilarity of it all.

The rest of the show included lengthy coverage of Bernie Sanders’s eight-hour, 37-minute filibuster on the Senate floor stalling a vote on the tax bill. It was actually kind of a neat trick: As a tribute, Olbermann somehow made his own show feel eight hours and 37 minutes long, too.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 13: As we’ll see very shortly, Keith Olbermann loves a conspiracy theory. Tonight’s is about the derivatives market, or as Olbermann called it tonight, “the mysterious derivatives market.” I will not claim to understand every nuance of derivatives, but who is served by describing them this way, as Olbermann did tonight during an interview with Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi: “They affect you more than you know.” “But at what cost? Nobody knows the cost.” “Bought and sold in secret, trillions of dollars worth.” This is the worst kind of ignorance-dependent scare-mongering for which Olbermann loves to condemn Glenn Beck. All he’s missing is a chalkboard. But this week gets worse.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14: Tonight’s first guest was Michael Moore, who had just paid — and more importantly, announced he had paid — $20,000 to help bail out WikiLeaks head Julian Assange. We got a taste of Olbermann’s willingness to delve into conspiracies on this topic last week, when he tweeted a link to a rambling blog post accusing one of Assange’s rape accusers of having ties to the CIA. (Heres Reason’s take on the kerfuffle.)

Tonight, we have Moore saying “WikiLeaks is vital for a free and open society to exist,” and adding that Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin would have started it in their day, “if there’d been an Internet back then.” (Ben Franklin was in fact a printer and publisher, but OK.) Moore also implied WikiLeaks could have prevented 9/11. No, really.

Then we get to the sexual assault accusations against Assange. First, let’s review. Here’s how the Guardian summed up the charges: “The first complainant, a Miss A, said she was the victim of “unlawful coercion” on the night of 14 August in Stockholm. The court heard Assange was alleged to have ‘forcefully’ held her arms and used his bodyweight to hold her down. The second charge alleged he ‘sexually molested’ her by having sex without using a condom, when it was her ‘express wish’ that one should be used. A third charge claimed Assange ‘deliberately molested’ Miss A on 18 August. A fourth charge, relating to a Miss W, alleged that on 17 August, he ‘improperly exploited’ the fact she was asleep to have sex with her without a condom.”

And here’s how Michael Moore dismisses them on tonight’s show: “This whole thing stinks to the high heavens. I got to tell you, I mean, I wasn’t born yesterday. … This is all a bunch of hooey as far as I’m concerned.” Olbermann let this statement lie. I wonder how progressives will react?

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15: Not too well! Turns out that something progressives don’t like it when people smear the names of women who have made accusations of rape, and suggest that accused rapists shouldn’t even have to submit to basic questioning. In fact, they don’t even like it when the accused man is, like, very cool and powerful! Crazy, I know. So, some progressives started a campaign to shame Michael Moore over his uncritical support of Assange. Some of the thousands of people who took to Twitter to participate also criticized Olbermann, who had tweeted links to stories that revealed the name of Assange’s accusers, a widely acknowledged taboo when it comes to sexual crimes.

How do you think Olbermann reacted?

Not too well! In a series of five tweets very late on Wednesday night, he wrote: “Rape has touched my family, directly and savagely, and if anybody thinks I have addressed it without full sensitivity, then that assessment is the one that counts, and I apologize. But these accusations that I ‘revealed’ an accuser’s identity by retweeting Bianca Jagger’s link, or that I ‘shamed’ an accuser by asking a question about the prosecution of a man governments are trying to bury, or that I do not ‘understand’ charges that have yet to be presented in their final form, reflect exactly the the kind of rushing to judgment of which I’m accused, and merit the same kind of apology I have just given.”

Ah, the old “I’m sorry if you think I haven’t addressed this with sensitivity” form of “apology” (actually not an apology at all!). Then of course, he spends most of the non-apology apology lashing out at his accusers, after laying down the “this has touched my family” immunity cloak. This incident should be a reminder to progressives, women especially, who might have thought Olbermann was on their team: Keith Olbermann is just an oldfashioned bully dressed up as a “good guy.”

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16: And, the inevitable: This afternoon, Olbermann took all his toys and went home, “suspending” his Twitter account “until this frenzy is stopped.” This establishes a promising precedent: If enough people tell Keith Olbermann they’re mad at him, he goes away. 

But let’s get back to “Countdown,” shall we?

On the same night that Larry King signed off after 25 years on CNN, Olbermann delivered a passive-aggressive, self-aggrandizing farewell to King, “a friend and supporter.” It reminded me of when the news broke back in July that King would be stepping down. Here’s’ what Olbermann said at the time: “Larry King announcing tonight he will leave his nightly show this fall. Larry King is a lovely and generous man, who repeatedly tried to convince his bosses to hire me to precede him at CNN, as long ago as the spring of 2001. I will always be in his debt. Larry King, great broadcaster, hello.“ Ha! The man does have a knack for bringing every story back to himself. (In case you missed it, heres how he used Elizabeth Edwards’ death to talk about his old show on ESPN.)

Anyway, he ended histribute” tonight by slamming CNN and King for low ratings. Now that King is leaving, he said, CNN will realize “it wasn’t the host that was the problem of a feature interview show at 9 o’clock. It was the idea of a feature interview at 9 o’clock.” Classy!

The Worst Persons segment featured Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Olbermann read each offending quote in different, bizarre voices, presumably meant to be impressions. Whatever you’re imagining right now, make it weirder. Then the very next segment was an interview with Kevin Spacey about his new film in which he portrays Jack Abramoff, who Olbermann promptly mocked for having a habit of doing impressions. Then he told a story about how Walter Matthau once did a bad impression of Vin Scully for him. At this point I just have to throw my hands up.

I’ll end this column by saying that Keith Olbermann is almost certainly worse at doing impressions that Walter Matthau was. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see if any flowers have been delivered, because that, ladies and gentlemen, is the nicest thing anyone’s said about Keith Olbermann all week.